[Screen It]

(2001) (Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston) (R)

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Drama: A young singer of a tribute band finds his dreams answered and nightmares realized when he's chosen to replace the lead singer of his favorite heavy metal group.
It's 1985 and Chris Cole (MARK WAHLBERG) is the lead singer of Blood Pollution, a tribute band that covers the songs of Steel Dragon, a mainstream heavy metal group. Chris' perfectionist ways about the music and his refusal to perform original songs soon wears thin with his band mates, including guitarist Rob (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT), eventually forcing them to replace him with Bradley (STEPHAN JENKINS), the lead singer for rival tribute band, Black Babylon.

Chris and his girlfriend-cum-manager, Emily Poule (JENNIFER ANISTON), storm out, with her sure that he's destined for bigger and better things. It doesn't take long before that happens as he receives a call from Kirk Cuddy (DOMINIC WEST), Steel Dragon's guitarist. It seems that lead singer Bobby Beers (JASON FLEMYNG), Chris' idol, is similarly being booted out of the group, and they're looking for a replacement singer.

Accordingly, Chris auditions for the gig and gets the part, soon joining Kirk, drummer A.C. (JASON BONHAM), bassist Jorgen (JEFF PILSON) and guitar wizard Ghode (ZAKK WYLDE) on the road and in the recording studio, instantly becoming famous and thus reaping the benefits of being a rock and roll star.

Befriended by Mats (TIMOTHY SPALL), the group's veteran road manager and drawing the amorous attention of Tania (DAGMARA DOMINCZYK), their P.R. rep., Chris - now christened Izzy - suddenly finds himself living his dream. Yet, the lifestyle begins to swallow and change him, putting a strain on his relationship with Emily who learns from the other girlfriends and wives about ignoring the perks afforded the band members. From that point on, and as the allure begins to wear off, Chris must decide what's right for him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Sex, drugs and rock and roll. That familiar saying may offend or scare off some, but it's enticed plenty of young men - and women - into picking up a guitar or microphone and dreaming of becoming a rock star. Like many other high profile, low quantity jobs, however, the chances of making it in the industry are slim at best.

While there are those who make it and enjoy the accompanying perks, the stress is great. The rigors of touring, recording and clashing egos often take their toll, with few bands surviving for any sort of notable duration, particularly with their original line-up intact. That's particularly true regarding lead singers who often get most of the fame, the biggest egos, and the collective boot in the seat of the pants as they're often subsequently kicked out by the rest of the band.

One of the more notable bands regarding such matters has been Van Halen that's now gone through three lead singers. Of course, once a singer is removed or abdicates his or her throne, a replacement must be chosen. One of the more interesting cases of that was with heavy metal band Judas Priest that replaced outgoing singer Rob Halford with Tim "Ripper" Owens" who previously fronted a JP cover band.

Seemingly based on that particular incident, "Rock Star" arrives this week with a similar story to tell. Unfortunately, and despite engaging performances from lead Mark Wahlberg and costar Timothy Spall, the film doesn't have a particularly novel one to relate, as it retreads a familiar rock and roll, rags to riches tale filled with all of the requisite clichés commonly found in such films.

Accordingly, it mirrors various elements of "Almost Famous," "That Thing You Do!" and "The Commitments," among many others, in its morality tale of nobodies becoming somebodies and fame and fortune then ruining their dreams. Notwithstanding the been there, seen that feeling, the film could have been something if it had some new story or angle to tell, but, alas, that's not the case.

The film works best, however, during the beginning when it's in small-scale mode, detailing Chris' life of idolizing the band and dealing with rival imitators. It's most interesting then, with its engaging characters and "little guy" story. Wahlberg ("Planet of the Apes," "The Perfect Storm") - no stranger to the world of music as he formerly headed up Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - looks right for the role, even if he and Jennifer Aniston ("Office Space," "Picture Perfect") - who plays his girlfriend and manager - seem a bit old for the parts. As in many of his other films, Wahlberg's charm and winning persona help him overcome some character deficiencies. Aniston is okay in her part, but is saddled by the inevitable clichés of the eventually forgotten girlfriend character.

After the protagonist is given the lead singer gig with the major heavy metal band - a bit that isn't fleshed out enough to make it completely credible - things are fun for a short while, such as during a photo shoot for the band. They're supposed to look tough and intimidating, but Chris can't stop grinning because of all of this is just so much "gosh darn, I can't believe this is happening to me" fun for him.

Then the inevitable occurs, which in this case means the industry and fame swallowing and chewing him up as well as all of the accompanying clichés found in such tales (including, but not limited to, the drink, drugs, willing groupies, trashed hotel rooms and the grueling life on the road schedule). While I'm sure most, if not all of that occurs in the "real" world, we've seen it all before in previous rock and roll pictures where it's been done in far more interesting and engaging ways than is offered here.

Much of it also feels rather similar to "Boogie Nights," Wahlberg's 1997 film where a relative unknown performer is plucked from obscurity and then experiences the highs and lows of the porn business. While mining similar thematic currents, director Stephen Herek ("Holy Man," "Mr. Holland's Opus") and writer John Stockwell (writer of HBO's "Breast Men," director of "crazy/beautiful") don't come close to the quality of Paul Thomas Anderson's work in either substance or style, or the "after the fall of the mighty" repercussions that marked that work.

Another problem is that we barely know any members of either the real band or its tribute imitator. While Wahlberg is able to carry much of the picture on his chiseled physique and winning screen presence, it would have been nice, and beneficial to the picture, had some of the other band members, such as the one played by Dominic West ("28 Days," "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), been fleshed out to a greater extent. While some of them are played by real life musicians such as Stephan Jenkins (Third Eye Blind), Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and Blas Elias (Slaughter), none of them are as interesting or engaging as those found in "The Commitments" or "That Thing You Do!"

The exception - although he's not playing a musician - is Timothy Spall ("Topsy-Turvy," "Secrets and Lies") who gives the film's best performance as the veteran road manager. A fellow who at times is decent and human but at others wallows in the accompanying depravity like the rest, the character is a tough combination to play. Yet, Spall does it with such finesse that you may end up wishing the story focused more on him than with the other characters.

As far as the music is concerned, Herek mixes in both well-known period pieces with original heavy metal songs, the latter of which sound credible enough - from a period perspective - to the ears of this casual at best heavy metal listener.

With all of that music and the preponderance of hair farmers and music industry clichés, one may be reminded of Rob Reiner's brilliant heavy metal spoof, "This is Spinal Tap." While the two films are obviously different in nature and tone, the spoof comes off as far more satisfactory and entertaining, simply for being different, something this film can barely muster, especially in its second half.

Okay for a while and then saddled with too many trite moments and been there, seen that material, "Rock Star" isn't horrible, but it isn't likely to have too many viewers stomping their feet, raising their lighters, or screaming out for an encore. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 4, 2001 / Posted September 7, 2001

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